Tensions Escalate in Myanmar: The Ta’ang National Liberation Army vs. the Junta Military
Conflict Intensifies in Northern Shan State
The ongoing conflict between the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Myanmar military junta is set to escalate in the coming weeks. Both sides are increasing their resources and troops, sparking concerns of a significant rise in violence. The TNLA, the armed wing of the Palaung State Liberation Front, has been augmenting its military power since the February 1, 2021 coup in Myanmar. The clashes are predominantly concentrated in three townships: Kutkai and Muse in northern Shan State, and Mogoke in Mandalay Region.
Junta’s Advances Weaken TNLA’s Administration
While the TNLA has been making efforts to strengthen its administrative structure, the need to bolster its military resistance against the junta’s advances has hampered these efforts. The International Crisis Group (ICG) reports that the 2021 coup has inadvertently empowered the TNLA. The Myanmar military, preoccupied with conflicts on other fronts, has unintentionally allowed the TNLA and its allies to gain territory. However, the TNLA’s administrative functions appear to be suffering, as the group is forced to focus on its military capabilities.
Future Battles Predicted to Intensify
Conflict monitoring experts suggest that the battles between the junta and the TNLA are unlikely to diminish. Instead, they predict that the conflicts will become more drawn-out and intense, with other ethnic armed organizations expected to lend support to the TNLA. Despite these predictions, the TNLA denies official cooperation with the People’s Defense Force (PDF), an armed group under the National Unity Government (NUG). However, the TNLA does acknowledge a complex overlap of PDF and TNLA forces on the ground, particularly in areas like Mogoke, which borders Mandalay Region and Shan State.
Political Engagement and the Resistance
The TNLA’s political engagement with the post-coup resistance is multifaceted. The group has been providing refuge to several resistance activists and reportedly training and equipping armed resistance groups formed since the coup. These groups include NUG-backed PDFs, independent resistance groups, and guerilla cells. However, the TNLA must tread carefully with its engagement with the NUG due to potential pressure from China. Overt cooperation with the NUG could risk jeopardizing its defense against the junta military. As such, the TNLA is expected to continue its covert moves to protect its territory from being seized by the junta military.
Implications of the Escalating Conflict
The escalating conflict has far-reaching implications for the region and beyond. The TNLA’s expansion has created tensions with other ethnic armed groups and non-Ta’ang communities in northern Shan State. The group’s ambiguous political positioning since the coup reflects the complex environment in which ethnic armed groups operate, which in turn explains the difficulties in building a countrywide anti-regime alliance. The TNLA’s actions also reflect a broader fragmentation within Myanmar’s national borders that has accelerated since the 2021 coup. As tensions continue to escalate, the international community must keep a close eye on the unfolding situation.
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